As much as I value embracing spontaneity and adventure, one of my very favorite things about long-distance backpacking is finding the rhythm of a hike.
Each trail has a different rhythm, which new hikers eventually settle into. Most pilgrims finished their days on the Camino early, allowing time to do their chores, get changed, visit the local cathedral, and then have a communal dinner. On the PCT, days stretched from dawn until dusk — with a siesta in the shade of a cottonwood thrown in. Part of the AT’s rhythm was break time at shelters, where it was important to read and write in shelter registers.
As on other footpaths, out here on the Colorado Trail, life is simple:
- Wake up at the first light of dawn.
- Eat and get dressed.
- Break camp.
- Hike uphill into the daylight.
- Remove extra clothing layers.
- Take lots of pictures of the most scenic part of the day.
- At high point, put back on puffy, dry damp gear, eat, get dehydrated meal rehydrating, charge phone in sunlight.
- Descend under treeline.
- Filter water.
- Eat, walk, eat, and walk some more.
- Avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
- Make camp below treeline on another slope.
Each day varies a little bit based on the weather or the terrain, but that’s the basic shape life takes.
Today, for example, there were two bursts of storms. I took shelter from one on the porch of a locked restroom facility; for the second, I nestled myself under a grove of pines. And, even though this was my shortest mileage day to date on the CT, when I approached the treeline of the day’s second ridge it was time to make camp.
Here, where the Colorado Trail is collocated with the Continental Divide Trail, it seems that the pop-up afternoon storms are the most challenging variable to master. New to this part of the country, I’d expected to be able to hike through the afternoon, that the sole determining factor of the day’s progress would be my endurance. But, thunderstorms have a way of encouraging humility, and it seems appropriate that the rhythm of such a dramatic trail would yield to them.